Advertising Lessons From The “Mad Men” Era

As “Mad Men” and other shows based in the 1960s dot the fall TV lineup, those of us who actually work in the ad industry are translating those shows’ themes to the here and now. What should we be thinking about on behalf of our brands?



The recent premieres of Pan Am, along with the anticipated fifth season of Mad Men, tell us marketers it may be time to take a five-decade step “back” to the future.

Even though the (recently cancelled) Playboy Club didn’t make the cut, and Pan Am didn’t take off with the critics, Mad Men remains a shining “spot” for the ad industry, and there is a lot to learn from having the 1960’s all across our TV dial.

Beta Guys 

While you might assume the collection of nightclub, airplane, and office Lotharios is harkening the return of the suited, controlling, and stoic Alpha Male, the opposite might in fact be the case.

As men now juggle responsibilities at home with those at the office, gay men gain greater popularity on television shows, and the Old Spice guy and Fabio do their best to mock the macho attributes that men once held in highest regard, today’s American guy has come a long way from his Alpha roots.


In fact, recent research published in the journal Science, says that “beta” men are happier, less stressed, and achieve just as much as “alpha” men. So why run the risk of a slap across the face as you ask the wrong gal to get you your midday scotch?

What does this mean for today’s Mad Men, those of us who actually work in the ad industry in the here and now? What should we be thinking about on behalf of our brands?

Mainly, we need to define our male targets along the lines of the Alpha-Beta continuum and try to figure out how brands provide their male targets with a feeling that fuses the best of Don Draper with the best of the Beta male. How can brands help men define masculinity as sharply as it was 50 years ago without the baggage of inequality for others that went with it?

Marketers must make sure that brands are making men feel like men, without letting them be cads.

Alpha Gals


Cottontails, girdles and steno pads–the accessories of female characters in these shows remind women that they’ve still got a long way to go. Starting with diversifying the creative staffs behind these series!

But, rather than think of these shows as a reversal on the work of Friedan and Steinem, think of them as making Alpha women.  With women taking a step back during prime time television, they will want to see themselves taking a big step forward during the commercial break.

As marketers, we have to define who our brand’s ideal target woman is in light of her having the choice to live on a continuum between work and home. How does your brand support or counter her role in bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan?

Marketers must make sure that brands make women feel like they have a choice in demonstrating just how far they have come.

How may I serve you?


If there is one thing that The Playboy Club and Pan Am offer us is a reminder of the premium once placed on service in the hospitality industry. Without knowing it, these enterprises were at the leading end of stellar brand experiences.

If only more brands delivered service experiences and created “worlds” as robust and integrated as those we see in the fall lineup. If only we brought those worlds to life the way the ad men and stewardesses did.

Marketers must ask if and how their brands can serve their consumers better. What is the employee experience and how is it delivering the customer experience? What is the “world” that our brand creates and supports? And how does this “world” create stories for the people who visit it?

As we press the remote control for television to transport us back in time, we should look to our brands to make sure we stay firmly rooted in the future.

[Image: Flickr user conorwithonen]

About the author

Eduardo A. Braniff is the CEO for Imagination The Americas